Fred didn't think she would visit Wesley again. She had been hurt by his betrayal. His actions had cost Connor his childhood and his bond with Angel. It hurt her. No, it made her furious. They were happy and Wesley ruined it all for them.
But now, with Angel gone for a month and Cordelia too -- perspective returned and she realized that the family she lived with after returning from Pylea had fallen apart. She only had Gunn now.
And maybe Wesley too.
But she found that she could not knock on his door. Closing her eyes, she remembered another occasion like this. He had been tainted by Billy's blood and she wanted to make him feel better after the episode. He had been in despair for nearly hurting her. Her lips thinned and she shook her head. It was hard. So hard to pretend that Wesley never existed during those bleak weeks after he was exiled from Angel Investigations. She had played along, partly because she was hurt and furious herself, and partly because she didn't want to remind Angel of the man responsible for stealing his shred of happiness that was Connor.
"Can I help you?"
The voice startled her and she turned to see an elderly woman with a shock of white curls in a flower print summer dress staring at her in puzzlement.
"Oh ... ah, yes. I ... I'm a friend of Wesley, and I want to see if he was here," she gave the woman a smile.
"Oh. I'm Janice DeLores by the way," she gave Fred her hand.
"Winnifred Burke. Just call me Fred," she returned, shaking her hand.
"Fred? Girls these days. It's all about equality now, isn't it?"
Not sure whether Janice was saying something nice or insulting, Fred said, "Where is Wesley?"
"Ah. I was about to tell you that he's not here anymore, dear. The poor boy, after that mugging he wasn't really the same. Stayed in his apartment all the time, looking like he never got much sleep."
Fred swallowed, unable to quench the guilt she felt. Then she realized what DeLores just said.
"You mean he's-"
"He moved away two days ago. Took most of his things."
"Did he say where he went?"
"No," DeLores shook her head sadly. "He said that he wanted to leave some people behind so that they won't bother him anymore. Can't say I blame him. Street thugs. This neighbourhood is going to the dogs," she hurrumphed.
Fred blinked away unexpected tears. She knew who he wanted to leave behind. Why should she be sad, though? Why?
"Are you alright my dear?" DeLores asked gently.
Fred realized that tears she was trying so hard to hold back were rolling down her cheeks. Embarrassed, she quickly wiped them away.
"I'm sorry. I just didn't expect him to...leave. Somehow I thought he'd always be here."
"Oh dear," DeLores placed a gentle hand on Fred's shoulder. "Is he your ex-boyfriend?"
"Uh ... no, no ... just a friend."
"Well, if you do care for him so much, I'm sure you will find him eventually."
Fred gave her a weak smile. "Thanks. Can I ... uh, go into his apartment?"
"Why, are you interested in it?"
"Yeah," she said, hoping she sounded convincing -- it wasn't really a lie, after all. She *was* interested in what she could find in the apartment -- some clues to where he went, for one.
DeLores let her in the apartment, and left her there, saying that she would be back in a few minutes.
When Fred saw the apartment, she was taken aback by its emptiness. For a moment, she could picture him at his desk next to the window, studying one of his moldy books. She could almost see him now, looking up and smiling at her. His blue eyes laughing with his smile, he would gesture her over...
Fred walked in, closing the door behind her.
The furniture was still there, and the normally filled to the brim bookshelves were desolately empty. Fred clenched her hands at the sudden grief she felt in her chest.
He was gone. Really gone.
Fred saw something sparkling in a corner near the window. She walked hesitantly towards it and saw that it was glass shards ... and something else.
She bent down and gently brushed the shards away. Photo frames. Two of them. The simple plastic frames were badly cracked, as if someone threw them down with great force or stomped on them. Behind the shattered glass panels of the frames were photographs -- familiar photographs. Photographs of happier times.
One was of Wesley, Angel and Cordelia. Didn't Cordelia have a similar photo? The other was of Gunn, herself and Wesley.
This time, she couldn't stop her tears. She sat down amidst the shards, the torn photographs in her hands, and sobbed.
"I'm sorry Wesley. I'm so sorry," she whispered, her voice echoing hollowly in the abandoned apartment.
"I'm sorry Wesley. I should have warned you that it would take hours."
Gavin felt quite sorry for the young man. Enduring such agony for six hours was inhuman, he knew, but Wesley had been insistent. It was foolhardy of him, Gavin thought -- but the man is clearly on the edge of insanity now -- if he wasn't there before.
Wesley was still quivering, his eyes rolled up into his head. Gavin could see the elemental energies whipping inside the man's body, wrecking havoc with his pain centers.
"Uncontrollable," Gavin whispered. "Fire may be the strongest of the elements, but it is also the most uncontrollable."
Wesley chose that moment to cry out in pain. With a last shudder, he forced himself to sit up. After several attempts, his eyes opened and began to focus.
"Feeling better?" Gavin asked lamely.
"It burns," Wesley whispered, his voice guttural with the force of the magic.
"Yes ... that's what you get when you deal with fire," Gavin mused. Then sighing, he helped the man up, ignoring the elemental energy that tried to prick his shields.
"You didn't tell me that you were bound," Gavin accused.
Wesley didn't answer - or couldn't.
"Bindings are notoriously stubborn. If it weren't for the binding, the pain would've lasted only two hours -- tops."
He settled Wesley onto his velvet settee.
"Now, my payment-"
The flash of light startled him, but Gavin recovered quickly enough to catch the Blade of Karnak that materialized before him before it fell.
"Careful!" Gavin hissed. "Do not engage in elemental magic unnecessarily! Goodness, Wyndham-Pryce, you know better than anyone that elemental energies are highly unstable. The more you use them-"
"-the more I become the Element. I know," Wesley wheezed. "And I didn't do that. Or ... at least I didn't think I did. Could I..." he took a deep breath. "Could I do that unconsciously?"
Gavin sighed. "Yes. That's a big warning not to use your newfound 'openness' unless very, very necessary. It's also a bloody revelation. The things you have been hiding from your friends ... the Watcher's Council. You are more deceptive than I thought!"
"Be quiet, Gavin," Wesley whispered, trying to stand up.
Gavin flinched, expecting a spell. But it didn't come -- thank goodness. Wesley had restrained himself. He was more than a match for Wesley, but now that the man was open to elemental energies, Wesley was raw with power and highly unstable. He didn't want to deal with a mad Elemental just yet.
Gavin gave Wesley a year before he spontaneously combusted into Kingdom Come, or whatever dimension he blew himself into. Unless he was a Natural, which was preposterous. Hadn't been one in 600 years. And they're rare breeds, Naturals. So rare that the Watcher's Council would snag those kiddies with the talent and lock them up forever. At least ... he didn't think that Wesley was a natural channeler ... if he was, boy, were they in deep-
"Where is the door?" Wesley slurred.
Distracted, Gavin flicked a hand, and muttered, "Reveal".
The door appeared and Wesley stumbled towards it.
"Oh. A word of caution."
Wesley turned drunkenly towards him.
"Or at least, another word or two. Be careful of the Element, Wesley. It will sing to you and seduce you into using it. Remember, fire can be your servant, but let loose -- she is your enemy. She is traitorous ... as traitorous as you," he gave Wesley a sardonic smile.
He barely had his full shields up when Wesley reacted, hitting him in the jaw. Wesley was so filled with supernatural strength that despite his shield, Gavin flew clear across the room to land heavily on the opposite wall. Thankfully, the shielding worked in time to cushion him from the brunt of it, but the unexpected attack left him winded.
He saw Wesley's blue eyes turn a glowing green. Smoke began to rise from Gavin's expensive Persian carpets, and the air around Wesley began distort.
"Suck it in, Wesley -- or you can say bye-bye to whatever kooky revenge you planned," Gavin barked.
This seem to shake Wesley out of his stupor. Slowly, the glow faded from his eyes and the heat in the room began to dissipate.
He looked shaken and more than a little frightened.
"I did warn you," Gavin snarled, rising to his feet. "You're in over your head here. So another piece of advice -- take anger management classes. You will need it."
Wesley stared at him for a while before walking out. His hair was plastered with sweat, and he was breathing heavily, as if he just ran a marathon.
Gavin watched the man go, suddenly uncomfortable that he may have let his greed go to his head this time and released something really bad into the world.
The Blade of Karnak sparkled prettily for him. He took it and studied its sheen -- yes, it was the real one alright. With this beauty, he could slice open conduits and drink up magic energy like a sponge.
"But you are worth any trouble, aren't you my pretty? What's a mad Elemental anyway? So they tend to kill millions once in a while. Big deal. Now, where shall I hang you?"
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